How New Shelter Length of Stay Limits Impact Families

When it’s working as intended, Massachusetts’ Emergency Family Shelter System functions as a vital safety net for families. Shelter providers offer families experiencing homelessness safe, stable places to stay until they are able to find permanent homes, along with comprehensive support to get back on their feet. At its best, this system offers safety, dignity, and support that leads to families finding stable, affordable housing and moving beyond homelessness for good. And, families can count on that safety and stability, remaining in shelter until they are able to find and maintain permanent homes. 

During their time in shelter, families work closely with staff to secure affordable, permanent housing through every option available to them, as quickly as possible. This process typically takes approximately one and a half to two years for families at Hildebrand, often involving complex housing and voucher applications along with finding jobs, childcare, and other essential components to achieving long-term stability. Once families secure a permanent home and move out of shelter, Hildebrand’s Stabilization Services team works with families to remain housed. Hildebrand’s approach works—families find affordable homes, move out of shelter, and stay housed in the long term. More than 90% of families are still stably housed two years after moving out of shelter.

New restrictions imposed by the legislature, however, will soon interrupt this proven approach. Effective this July, some families will be required to leave shelter before they’re ready. With a record-high number of families in the state’s emergency shelter system, the Massachusetts legislature recently passed significant new restrictions limiting the time that a family can stay in shelter to nine months, with the possibility of two 90-day extensions for families that meet certain criteria. Once enforcement of these limitations begins in early July, the state anticipates terminating 100-150 families from shelter per week. Advocates for vulnerable families are very concerned about the impact this will have on children and families.

This change significantly impacts how the shelter system supports families—and jeopardizes this critical safety net at a time when we’re experiencing an intense housing shortage and affordability crisis in Greater Boston. In its 2023 Greater Boston Housing Report Card, The Boston Foundation reported that rental vacancy rates in Greater Boston are “stubbornly low” compared with other large metro areas and continue to decline, while the portion of renters who are cost burdened—paying more than 30% of their income towards rent—has reached a record high. Sending 100-150 families per week out of shelter and into this environment is unsustainable and will only serve to fuel this crisis.

Families need more support to navigate an increasingly limited and expensive housing market, not more restrictions. Pushing hundreds of families out of shelter and into a highly expensive and competitive housing market before they’re ready is not a solution. Amid these drastic changes, though, one constant remains: Hildebrand and its partners remain steadfast in working to achieve our vision that every family has a home. We won’t lose our focus on prioritizing families first and foremost.

This Fair Housing Month, Let’s Recommit to Fair Housing

The Fair Housing Act marks a monumental milestone in the fight for civil rights and housing access in the United States. Enacted in 1968 in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race; color; national origin; religion; sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity; familial status; and disability. Massachusetts has additional legislation in place that expands on these protections by prohibiting discrimination based on the source of a renter’s income, including whether they have a housing voucher.

At the time the Fair Housing Act was passed—56 years ago this April—it represented a significant opportunity to ensure everyone would have fair access to housing after many decades of institutionalized discrimination. However, despite the Fair Housing Act, discrimination still runs rampant across the housing market. The Boston Foundation’s 2020 report, Qualified Renters Need Not Apply: Race and Voucher Discrimination in the Metro Boston Rental Housing Market, documents pervasive discrimination based on both race and voucher status in Greater Boston.

Today, discrimination in the Greater Boston housing market persists. Four years after The Boston Foundation’s report was published, the non-profit Housing Rights Initiative (HRI) conducted testing and determined that discrimination based on voucher status continues to be widespread in Boston. HRI filed a lawsuit against 20 landlords, property owners, and real estate companies for discriminating against voucher holders. The lawsuit alleges instances of blatant discrimination, such as a realtor sharing with a prospective tenant that the landlords “don’t do Section 8,” and it documents more subtle forms of discrimination, like ghosting.

The lawsuit brought forth by HRI is a noteworthy example of accountability for those who are perpetuating discrimination in our communities. But, a single case isn’t enough to uproot a decades-long pattern of ongoing, systemic discrimination. As HRI founder and executive director Aaron Carr says, the findings of their investigation are “the tip of a very discriminatory iceberg.” The federal Fair Housing Act and state-specific fair housing laws are only effective if they are consistently enforced. In order to ensure fair housing for all, we need to recommit to holding accountable all who carry out discriminatory practices in our communities.

When we hold those perpetrating discriminatory practices accountable, our whole community benefits. At Hildebrand, the vision that we share with our many partners, supporters, volunteers, and friends is that every family has a home. Housing discrimination impedes our progress towards achieving that vision. It exacerbates the housing crisis by further limiting an already extremely tight housing stock, making it difficult for families to move out of homelessness and prolonging their stay in shelter. Discrimination also reinforces racial and socioeconomic segregation in Boston by limiting housing options for people of color outside of neighborhoods that are highly segregated by race, and limiting options for voucher-holders outside of neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty.

As we seek to address Massachusetts’ intensifying housing crisis and entrenched segregation, let’s start with the solutions that are already in front of us. We need to ensure that existing protections, including the Fair Housing Act, are being consistently implemented and enforced. And, we can do more. By changing local zoning laws to allow for multi-family housing, for example, we can open up pathways for families to find homes in our communities. As this Fair Housing Month comes to an end, let’s recommit to fair housing and take the next steps towards ensuring that every family has a home.

Inclusionary Zoning: Making Communities Work for All Families

As a provider of emergency shelter and affordable permanent housing to families, Hildebrand Family Self-Help Center is on the front lines of both the housing and shelter crises. We are deeply concerned that some communities will choose not to comply with the MBTA Communities Act, as we’ve recently seen in Milton and several others throughout Greater Boston. 

This resistance affects families who are transitioning out of homelessness and anyone else who is seeking affordable housing in our communities. The lack of affordable housing directly contributes to the length of stay in shelter, now averaging 15 months, and the state’s spending on the shelter system. Massachusetts cannot expect to hold down the cost of shelter and resist building more multifamily housing, so we’re all in this together.

The massive housing shortage and exorbitant housing costs mean families across Greater Boston are left searching for somewhere to live that’s safe and affordable. Across the state, more than 7,500 families—the maximum that the system can hold—are currently staying in emergency shelters such as Hildebrand, and there are currently more than 700 families on the waitlist.

Families in shelters are eager to find housing, and they work closely with Case Managers and Housing Specialists in this effort to do so as quickly as possible. Yet, a shortage of housing options means finding a permanent home is increasingly difficult, and limiting housing availability with restrictive, exclusionary zoning laws only fuels this crisis. Adopting more inclusionary zoning laws in Milton—and the other towns and cities served by our MBTA system—will help open up pathways for families to move out of the cycle of homelessness.

Current residents will benefit from more housing options, too. While Milton has a high median household income—$170,531—there are many families in Milton whose incomes are significantly less. Nearly a quarter (24.4%) of households in Milton make less than $75,000/year. Further, close to 37% of Milton’s existing renters are paying more than 35% of their income in rent, meaning they are considered rent-burdened. 

Implementing more inclusionary zoning will allow for more housing options in towns and cities like Milton, making it easier for current residents to stay in the communities they already call home. With more housing options available, including units that are more affordable, lower-income-earning families won’t have to face a choice between spending a high proportion of their income on housing or leaving their communities. Teachers, restaurant workers, first responders, healthcare workers, and others who are essential to keeping our communities running will be able to live in the communities where they work. Small businesses that are vital to the local economy will gain customers and new potential employees. 

As we make decisions about the future of our communities, context is key. These zoning decisions are not taking place in a vacuum. Historically, zoning in Boston’s suburbs—including Milton—was deliberately designed to exclude families on the basis of race and class, as found in Boston Indicators’ 2023 report Exclusionary by Design: An Investigation of Zoning’s Use as a Tool of Race, Class, and Family Exclusion in Boston’s Suburbs, 1920 to Today. 

The legacy of these decisions remains today. Milton has higher incomes and housing costs than other communities in the same metro area, as well as a higher proportion of white residents and lower proportion of Black residents than contiguous communities like Mattapan. The exclusionary zoning in so many of our cities and towns not only exacerbates the housing shortage crisis, but it reinforces segregation by income, class, and race across Greater Boston.

We have the opportunity to make our communities work for all families, and adopting more inclusionary zoning will bring our communities one step closer to making this a reality in Greater Boston.

The Gulf Between Homeownership and Family Homelessness

We can all agree that keeping a roof over one’s head is more expensive than ever whether you are looking to buy a home or rent, but renters face the most challenges.

At one end of the spectrum are higher-income earners and investors who have been fueling the housing market, as they took advantage of low interest rates and earnings that kept up with, or surpassed, inflation.

Homeowners get to build wealth through equity and it’s been nothing but good news during this most recent housing boom, especially in places like the Boston area.

Now that inflation has taken a foothold in the country, some housing market analysts believe that a cooling off of the hot nationwide housing market is coming, due to rising interest rates, as evidenced by the number of mortgage application cancellations. As mortgage rates have risen, prospective buyers are concerned about needing higher down payments and larger monthly mortgage obligations. According to the real estate firm Redfin, mortgage application cancellations went up to 15% in June.

At the other end of the housing spectrum are those who were formerly homeless and are now looking to transition out of shelter into housing. They are looking to rent apartments, usually 2-bedrooms in the case of families working with Hildebrand. The recently released The State of the Nation’s Housing 2022 report, by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, noted that not only have housing prices continued to rise but that nationally, the rents in professionally-managed properties rose 12% in the first quarter of this year. This has put a strain on Hildebrand’s ability to move families out of shelter and into affordable permanent housing. Concurrently, now that pandemic relief programs have faded and fears of contracting COVID-19 in congregate living are waning, we are seeing the strain on the other end of the housing spectrum – emergency shelter – as more families seeking shelter come to Hildebrand and need us to guide them through realistic housing options.

Although we do have formerly homeless families who are now homeowners, our focus is on those families who are transitioning from shelter and looking for affordable apartments. Even more to the point, most will need to find subsidized housing because heads of households in Hildebrand shelters, working full-time, made an average of $16.79 per hour over the last quarter. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, to afford the fair market rent for a 2-bedroom in Boston in 2021, one would have to pay $2,336 and need to earn $44.92 per hour. This is on par with what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) established as the fair market rents (FMR) for rental units in the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy area of $2,339 for 2022. In 2015, HUD set the rent it would pay for a 2-bedroom unit at $1,494. In 2022, it is $2,399. This means that rents jumped over $1,000/month in this 7-year period. This also explains why families at the lowest end of the economic spectrum remain trapped at the bottom of the housing ecosystem: their wages simply cannot keep up with rising rents.

Hildebrand recently purchased an 11-unit building in Dorchester that will double our permanent housing portfolio to 22 units, and keep affordable housing at the forefront of Hildebrand’s efforts to disrupt the systems that lead to poverty and homelessness. This includes even stronger advocacy and raising awareness of the factors that lead to homelessness.

We must remain committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing, expanding supports for families to search for and find permanent, affordable homes, and to do even more to keep families from falling into homelessness. Affordable housing is and should continue to be a primary focus, but so should access to affordable healthcare and mental health services; livable wages; and more easily accessible pathways out of poverty (e.g., through higher education and training programs) and domestic violence. These are key factors that put families on a path to homelessness rather than home ownership, and keep the gulf wide between opportunity and reality.

Hildebrand at Humphreys Celebration Event!

The light showers and cold temperature on Thursday, May 19, could not deter Hildebrand from celebrating its newest affordable housing acquisition, 12 Humphreys Street, Dorchester! This acquisition supports Hildebrand’s mission of providing shelter and permanent housing to families experiencing homelessness and ensures that the apartments in the building remain affordable for residents.

“I’m so excited that these 11 apartments will remain affordable for Boston’s children and families”, said Shiela Y. Moore, Hildebrand’s CEO. “This doubles Hildebrand’s permanent housing ownership and continues to strengthen our supportive network in Boston for families experiencing homelessness. Hildebrand’s vision is every family has a home, and adding 12 Humphreys Street to our real estate portfolio will help us continue to make that vision a reality. Housing insecurity continues to increase in Massachusetts. So Hildebrand’s capacity and impact will also continue to increase, to make sure that each and every family finds shelter, support and – when ready – a home of their own again.”

The celebration was terrific, despite the weather! Speeches from Sheila Dillon, Chief of the Mayor’s Office of Housing, and Sara Barcan from CEDAC inspired and reminded attendees of the importance and impact of Hildebrand’s vision that every family has a home. A very special thank you to everyone celebrated with Hildebrand, especially Hildebrand’s Board and staff whose dedication, support, and advocacy on behalf of the organization and the families served is truly inspiring. Seth Daniel from the Dorchester Reporter came to the celebration; please enjoy his article below!

Homeless families find refuge on Humphreys Street | Dorchester Reporter

Hildebrand Receives the Cradles to Crayons Chairman’s Council Impact Award

At a virtual event on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, national nonprofit Cradles to Crayons® recognized Hildebrand Family Self-Help Center as the recipient of the 2022 Chairman’s Council Impact Award. Cradles to Crayons—the only national organization focused on mitigating Children’s Clothing Insecurity by providing clothing and other essentials at no charge on a large scale—honors one Service Partner each year for excellence in collaboration and programmatic impact. Cradles to Crayons selected Hildebrand in support of their goal to expand their Resource Center program for clients with more consistent and customized interactions with children and families in shelter, ensuring the children and families experiencing homelessness that work with Hildebrand are supported and prepared for all situations.

“We are proud to present this year’s Chairman’s Council Impact Award to Hildebrand Family Self-Help Center,” said Lynn Margherio, Founder and CEO of Cradles to Crayons. “In addition to their well-established housing and self-sufficiency programs, they have increased their focus on supporting families with everyday essentials like clothing and diapers. Community and collaboration are integral components of Hildebrand’s model and exemplify the core values of this award. Service Partners are an essential part of what we do at Cradles to Crayons, and we’re delighted to highlight and support their incredible work. Congratulations, Hildebrand Family Self-Help Center!” 

Lack of access to clothing and other basics can have significant negative short- and long-term impacts on children like delays in emotional and academic development, low self-esteem, health conditions, and more. “Hildebrand is so honored to receive the Chairman’s Council Impact Award from Cradles to Crayons. Our organizations share a commitment to children of families experiencing homelessness, who are living in shelter and are without the essentials that will help them feel comfortable, valued, and ready to move forward,” said Shiela Y. Moore, CEO of Hildebrand. “Whether it’s diapers for a 2-month-old, a new stylish winter coat for a 3rd grader, warm and cozy pajamas for all the children in a family settling into shelter, school supplies for an eager learner, or shorts and tops for a young athlete, Hildebrand and Cradles to Crayons understand the importance of these essential items that many take for granted. The partnership between Hildebrand and Cradles to Crayons helps children in Hildebrand’s shelters stabilize, stay healthy and warm, and find comfort and dignity at such a difficult time in their lives, as they experience homelessness with their parents.” 

Cradles to Crayons supported Hildebrand’s families with nearly 400 packages of additional essentials in the past year. The two organizations will continue to collaborate to ensure that children have the clothing, diapers, hygiene items, and the school suppliesthey need to thrive.

Hildebrand Family Self-Help Center Purchases Permanent Supportive Housing


Organizations work in partnership to maintain affordable housing in Boston

Boston, MA – November 29, 2021 – Hildebrand Family Self-Help Center, Inc. (Hildebrand) has purchased an 11-unit building at 12 Humphreys Street, Dorchester, from Sojourner House. This acquisition supports Hildebrand’s mission of providing shelter and permanent housing to families experiencing homelessness and ensures that the apartments in the building remain affordable for residents. Both organizations are leaders in the movement to end homelessness and provide safe, affordable homes with supportive services to families in crisis, so the partnership is a natural one.

“I’m so excited that Hildebrand’s partnership with Sojourner House has helped our purchase of 12 Humphreys Street and that these 11 apartments will remain affordable for Boston’s children and families”, said Shiela Y. Moore, Hildebrand’s CEO. “This doubles Hildebrand’s permanent housing ownership and continues to strengthen our supportive network in Boston for families experiencing homelessness. Hildebrand’s vision is every family has a home, and adding 12 Humphreys Street to our real estate portfolio will help us continue to make that vision a reality.”

Hildebrand also operates 135 units of shelter for families experiencing homelessness, and last year helped over 1,000 individuals who were experiencing homelessness, over 600 of whom were children. Each family receives case management, supportive services, community resources, and housing search support until they are ready to move out of shelter and into permanent homes. Hildebrand’s Stabilization Services team then continues to work with the family for another two years, to ensure they stay stably housed.

“Housing insecurity continues to increase in Massachusetts”, added Moore, “So Hildebrand’s capacity and impact will also continue to increase, to make sure that each and every family finds shelter, support and – when ready – a home of their own again.” Hildebrand Family Self-Help Center’s mission is to partner with families experiencing homelessness. The organization works to disrupt the cycle of homelessness by providing shelter, permanent housing, training and work readiness programs, and life skills development. Hildebrand restores hope and builds brighter futures, with the vision that every family has a home. Founded in 1988, Hildebrand has been at the forefront of the movement to end family homelessness for 33 years.

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